skip to main content


Title: A Climatology of Extratropical Cyclones Leading to Extreme Weather Events over Central and Eastern North America

Cool-season extreme weather events (EWEs) (i.e., high-impact weather events that are societally disruptive, geographically widespread, exceptionally prolonged, and climatologically infrequent) are typically associated with strong extratropical cyclones (ECs). The opportunity to investigate the genesis locations, tracks, and frequencies of ECs leading to EWEs over central and eastern North America and compare them to those of ordinary ECs forming over and traversing the same region motivates this study. ECs leading to EWEs are separated from ordinary ECs according to the magnitude, areal extent, and duration of their 925-hPa standardized wind speed anomalies in the 0.5° NCEP CFSR dataset. This separation allows for the construction of an October–March 1979–2016 climatology of ECs leading to EWEs over central and eastern North America. The climatology of ECs leading to EWEs over central and eastern North America reveals that these ECs typically form in the lee of the Rocky Mountains, over the south-central United States, and along the east coast of North America at latitudes equatorward of the typical genesis locations of ordinary ECs. ECs leading to EWEs exhibit equatorward-shifted tracks relative to ordinary ECs, likely associated with an equatorward shift in the position of the subtropical or polar-front jet. ECs leading to EWEs form most frequently in November and March, when the seasonal alignment of baroclinic and diabatic forcings is maximized. Similar to ordinary ECs, the genesis locations, tracks, and frequencies of ECs leading to EWEs are partially determined by the states of the Pacific–North American pattern and North Atlantic Oscillation.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1656406
NSF-PAR ID:
10091405
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
American Meteorological Society
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Monthly Weather Review
Volume:
147
Issue:
5
ISSN:
0027-0644
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1471-1490
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    We analyze the evolution of convective available potential energy (CAPE) and convective inhibition (CIN) in the days leading up to episodes of high CAPE in North America. The widely accepted theory for CAPE buildup, known as the advection hypothesis, states that high moist static energy (MSE) parcels of air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico become trapped under warm but dry parcels moving east from over elevated dry terrain. If and when the resulting CIN erodes, severe convection can occur due to the large energy difference between the boundary layer parcels and cool air aloft. However, our results, obtained via backward Lagrangian tracking of parcels at locations of peak CAPE, show that large values of CAPE are generated mainly via boundary layer moistening in the days leading up to the time of peak CAPE, and that a large portion of this moisture buildup happens on the day of peak CAPE. On the other hand, the free-tropospheric temperature above these tracked parcels rarely changes significantly over the days leading up to such occurrences. In addition, the CIN that allows for this buildup of CAPE arises mostly from unusually strong boundary layer cooling the night before peak CAPE, and has a contribution from differential advection of unusually warm air above the boundary layer to form a capping inversion. These results have important implications for the climatology of severe convective events, as it emphasizes the role of surface properties and their gradients in the frequency and intensity of high CAPE occurrences.

    Significance Statement

    Severe convective events, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hail storms, are among the most deadly and destructive weather systems. Although forecasters are quite good at predicting the probability of these events a few days in advance, there is currently no reliable seasonal prediction method of severe convection. We show that the buildup of energy for severe convection relies on both strong surface evaporation during the day of peak energy and anomalous cooling the night before. This progress represents a step toward understanding what controls the frequency of severe convective events on seasonal and longer time scales, including the effect of greenhouse gas–induced climate change.

     
    more » « less
  2. Changes to the tropical eastern North Pacific Intraseasonal Oscillation (ISO) at the end of the 21st century and implications for tropical cyclone (TC) genesis are examined in the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP585) scenario of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 6 (CMIP6) data set. Multimodel mean composite low-level wind and precipitation anomalies associated with the leading intraseasonal mode indicate that precipitation amplitude increases while wind amplitude weakens under global warming, consistent with previous studies for the Indo-Pacific warm pool. The eastern North Pacific intraseasonal precipitation/wind pattern also tends to shift southwestward in a warmer climate, associated with weaker positive precipitation anomalies near the coast of Mexico and Central America during the enhanced convection/westerly wind phase. Implications for the modulation of TC genesis by the leading intraseasonal mode are then explored using an empirical genesis potential index (GPI). In the historical simulation, GPI shows positive anomalies in the eastern North Pacific in the convectively enhanced phase of the ISO. The ISO’s modulation of GPI weakens near the coast of Mexico and Central America with warming, associated with a southward shift of GPI anomalies. Further examination of the contribution from individual environmental variables that enter the GPI shows that relative humidity and vorticity changes during ISO events weaken positive GPI anomalies near the Mexican coast with warming and make genesis more favorable to the southwest. The impact of vertical shear anomaly changes is also to favor genesis away from the coast. These results suggest a weaker modulation of TCs near the Mexican Coast by the ISO in a warmer climate. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Cutoff lows are often associated with high-impact weather; therefore, it is critical that operational numerical weather prediction systems accurately represent the evolution of these features. However, medium-range forecasts of upper-level features using the Global Forecast System (GFS) are often subjectively characterized by excessive synoptic progressiveness, i.e., a tendency to advance troughs and cutoff lows too quickly downstream. To better understand synoptic progressiveness errors, this research quantifies seven years of 500-hPa cutoff low position errors over the globe, with the goal of objectively identifying regions where synoptic progressiveness errors are common and how frequently these errors occur. Specifically, 500-hPa features are identified and tracked in 0–240-h 0.25° GFS forecasts during April 2015–March 2022 using an objective cutoff low and trough identification scheme and compared to corresponding 500-hPa GFS analyses. In the Northern Hemisphere, cutoff lows are generally underrepresented in forecasts compared to verifying analyses, particularly over continental midlatitude regions. Features identified in short- to long-range forecasts are generally associated with eastward zonal position errors over the conterminous United States and northern Asia, particularly during the spring and autumn. Similarly, cutoff lows over the Southern Hemisphere midlatitudes are characterized by an eastward displacement bias during all seasons.

    Significance Statement

    Cutoff lows are often associated with high-impact weather, including excessive rainfall, winter storms, and severe weather. GFS forecasts of cutoff lows over the United States are often subjectively noted to advance cutoff lows too quickly downstream, and thus limit forecast skill in potentially impactful scenarios. Therefore, this study quantifies the position error characteristics of cutoff lows in recent GFS forecasts. Consistent with typically anecdotal impressions of cutoff low position errors, this analysis demonstrates that cutoff lows over North America and central Asia are generally associated with an eastward position bias in medium- to long-range GFS forecasts. These results suggest that additional research to identify both environmental conditions and potential model deficiencies that may exacerbate this eastward bias would be beneficial.

     
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Severe local storm (SLS) activity is known to occur within specific thermodynamic and kinematic environments. These environments are commonly associated with key synoptic-scale features—including southerly Great Plains low-level jets, drylines, elevated mixed layers, and extratropical cyclones—that link the large-scale climate to SLS environments. This work analyzes spatiotemporal distributions of both extreme values of SLS environmental parameters and synoptic-scale features in the ERA5 reanalysis and in the Community Atmosphere Model, version 6 (CAM6), historical simulation during 1980–2014 over North America. Compared to radiosondes, ERA5 successfully reproduces SLS environments, with strong spatiotemporal correlations and low biases, especially over the Great Plains. Both ERA5 and CAM6 reproduce the climatology of SLS environments over the central United States as well as its strong seasonal and diurnal cycles. ERA5 and CAM6 also reproduce the climatological occurrence of the synoptic-scale features, with the distribution pattern similar to that of SLS environments. Compared to ERA5, CAM6 exhibits a high bias in convective available potential energy over the eastern United States primarily due to a high bias in surface moisture and, to a lesser extent, storm-relative helicity due to enhanced low-level winds. Composite analysis indicates consistent synoptic anomaly patterns favorable for significant SLS environments over much of the eastern half of the United States in both ERA5 and CAM6, though the pattern differs for the southeastern United States. Overall, our results indicate that both ERA5 and CAM6 are capable of reproducing SLS environments as well as the synoptic-scale features and transient events that generate them. 
    more » « less
  5. Mediterranean-type climates are defined by temperate, wet winters, and hot or warm dry summers and exist at the western edges of five continents in locations determined by the geography of winter storm tracks and summer subtropical anticyclones. The climatology, variability, and long-term changes in winter precipitation in Mediterranean-type climates, and the mechanisms for model-projected near-term future change, are analyzed. Despite commonalities in terms of location in the context of planetary-scale dynamics, the causes of variability are distinct across the regions. Internal atmospheric variability is the dominant source of winter precipitation variability in all Mediterranean-type climate regions, but only in the Mediterranean is this clearly related to annular mode variability. Ocean forcing of variability is a notable influence only for California and Chile. As a consequence, potential predictability of winter precipitation variability in the regions is low. In all regions, the trend in winter precipitation since 1901 is similar to that which arises as a response to changes in external forcing in the models participating in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. All Mediterranean-type climate regions, except in North America, have dried and the models project further drying over coming decades. In the Northern Hemisphere, dynamical processes are responsible: development of a winter ridge over the Mediterranean that suppresses precipitation and of a trough west of the North American west coast that shifts the Pacific storm track equatorward. In the Southern Hemisphere, mixed dynamic–thermodynamic changes are important that place a minimum in vertically integrated water vapor change at the coast and enhance zonal dry advection into Mediterranean-type climate regions inland.

     
    more » « less